Friday, October 19, 2007

Buddhism: two suttas

Some notes:

(from access to insight):
  • SN 22.86: Anuradha Sutta — To Anuradha {S iii 116; CDB i 936; this sutta is identical to SN 44.2} icon [Thanissaro]. Ven. Anuradha learns that if you can't even locate the Tathagata in space when he's sitting right in front of you, how can you ever hope to answer questions about his fate after death?
  • SN 22.89: Khemaka Sutta — About Khemaka {S iii 126; CDB i 942} [Thanissaro]. Although dis-identification with the five aggregates indeed plays a crucial role in becoming a noble disciple, full Awakening calls for more.
The Anuradha Sutta is where I found for my last post the often quoted line (found at the bottom) "it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress." - of course it should be noted that the translation uses 'stress' for dukkha and I used 'suffering.' I think 'unsatisfactoriness' is the best English term to capture the meaning of dukkha, but it is also clumsy (7 syllables).

The gist of the sutta is partly that asking questions about 'where do I go when I die' is useless because there is no 'I' to go anywhere. The Buddha goes through the standard list of constituents (khandas: form, feeling, perception, concepts, consciousness) that could constitute the 'I' or 'soul' and gets Anuradha to agree that each of them is changing, unsatisfactory, and hence no-self.

"What do you think, Anuradha: Is form [and so on] constant or inconstant?"
"Inconstant, lord."

"And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?"
"Stressful, lord."

"And is it proper to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"
"No, lord."

Even the idea, 'I have a soul' (which would be classified as a concept) comes and goes. So too for the being in front of you: no part (khanda) of him/her is permanent.

"And so, Anuradha — when you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, 'Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death'?"

"No, lord."

"Very good, Anuradha. Very good. Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress."

It is precisely when we give up the fruitless search for the eternal, unchanging, always-satisfying etc. that we find release from our suffering. Or as my old professor Alan Sponberg put it: Buddhism in three words, "just let go."


The Khemaka Sutta is about a monk near death who has given up his clinging to the five khandas. But still he has not attained the awakening an arahant (Pali for 'worthy one'). This introduces the notion of residual clinging.

"Friends, even though a noble disciple has abandoned the five lower fetters, he still has with regard to the five clinging-aggregates a lingering residual 'I am' conceit, an 'I am' desire, an 'I am' obsession.

The five fetters:

  1. avijja (ignorance),
  2. tanha (craving),
  3. vicikiccha (doubt),
  4. mana (conceit), and
  5. sakkaya-ditthi (self-identity view, personality-belief).
The analogy is then drawn between a such a view and a soiled cloth. Even when the cloth is cleaned it still retains some residual smell of the cleaning product (which curiously could have been salt earth, lye, or cow-dung!). It will still take some time for this new scent to disappear.

Likewise the noble disciple, even having overcome the fetters by the teaching and practice, still has notions that must be dispelled before awakening is established (cf the raft simile).
(note the image here of a soiled cloth being cleaned - compare that to the 'removing the paint' analogy of my last post - the Buddha's teaching is centrally one of unbecoming wrong traits/views, not becoming this or that type of person)

ps - if you are better with Pali than me (which isn't too hard) and can find these suttas at the Tipitaka in Pali sight on the right. I suspect it is here, here, or here.

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